From Publishers Weekly
While most contemporary philosophers mull over theoretical matters and shy away from giving advice on how to live, Irvine plumbs the age-old question: how do we master our desires? When it comes to desire, he says, "we are like a vacation home owner who, regardless of who shows up at the door... welcomes the visitor and convinces himself that he must have invited the visitor." Our evolutionary past, Irvine claims, has wired us for endless dissatisfaction since, from an evolutionary standpoint, it doesn't matter if we're miserable as long as we survive and reproduce. Early humans who basked in contentment, he argues, were less likely to survive than ones with a nagging itch to better their lot. Given this treadmill, how can we lead happy, meaningful lives? Irvine shares the advice of those who claim that "undesirable desires arise because we care what other people think of us." Examining teachings of Zen Buddhists, the Amish, the Hutterites, Hellenistic philosophers (the Stoics, Epicureans and Skeptics) and others, he concludes, "the best way to gain... lasting satisfaction... is to change not the world and our position in it but ourselves... we should work at wanting what we already have." This is no easy task, and Irvine admits that readers seeking further instruction had best look elsewhere. (Oct.)
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In a ruminative volume that falls, thankfully, between mass-market, silver-bullet self-help guide and unreadable thesis, Irvine, a professor of philosophy at Wright State University, carefully, with intelligence and good humor, walks readers through the nature of desire in human beings. He explains how desire--really a multitude of desires, uninvited and unannounced--manifests itself, how it can be identified and parsed, and how it can be mastered in a way that offers the best chance at self-fulfillment. He uses modern psychology to delineate desire but then shows how the world's great religions--here mainly Christianity and Buddhism, but also Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism--address this phenomenon. He advocates no particular approach, admitting instead that different tacks probably work for different people. And he never lets the reader think that mastering desire will be easy. This is that rare book that should appeal to a wide range of readers without necessarily trying to do so. Alan MooresCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved